Water is water, isn’t it? Well, yes it is, but there is always more than just water present. As moisture falls to the earth in the form of rain, snow, sleet or hail it cleanses the air. It absorbs suspended solid matter (dust, dirt and soot), gases, odors and other impurities, polluting the air over the area. The air gets better but the pollutants end up in the water. Among the things it picks up are carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid and it becomes somewhat acidic.

Once it reaches the earth’s surface it either evaporates, runs off in streams and rivers to lakes and eventually the oceans, or percolates through the earth’s surface. As it works its way through the earth’s formations some of the impurities are filtered out. But, because it is now somewhat acidic its solvent properties are enhanced and it dissolves minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, bicarbonates, sulfates and others from the earth’s crust. In our area most of the water we use comes from wells, so is often loaded with these substances.

The amount of minerals present and the composition of those minerals can vary a great deal from one well to another even when these wells are near each other and to the same depth. It is important to analyze the water in each well before applying treatment. There is no “one fits all” in water treatment. The water treatment must be tailored to each water supply.

In northeast Wyoming the following constituents are often found in the water:

HARDNESS  Click on for more information

SODIUM  Click on for more information

IRON  Click on for more information

MANGANESE  Click on for more information

ALKALINITY  Click on for more information

CHLORIDE  Click on for more information

SULFATE  Click on for more information

HYDROGEN SULFIDE  Click on for more information

FLUORIDE  Click on for more information

TOTAL DISSOLVED SOLIDS  Click on for more information

 

HARDNESS

Hardness is a combination of calcium and magnesium bicarbonates, dissolved from limestone. It combines with soaps and detergents to form insoluble soap curd. We see this as ring around the sink, scum on shower walls. It deposits in clothes and fabrics in the laundry, dulling colors and shortening their life. More soap or detergent is needed. It deposits as a cloudy film on glasses and dishware. Hardness forms a rock like scale in the water heater and water using appliances resulting in a loss of efficiency and shorter product life.

Hardness is usually measured in grains per gallon (GPG). The Water Quality Association rates hardness as follows:

Less than 1.0 GPG  Soft
1 to 3.5 GPG  Slightly hard
3.5 to 7.0 GPG   Moderately hard
7.0 to 10.5 GPG   Hard
10.5 and over Very hard

Gillette City water is usually between 20 and 25 GPG hard. A lot of rural well water in northeast Wyoming is even harder. Some has less hardness.

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IRON

Iron is the fourth most abundant element on earth and enters water naturally as it is dissolved from the earth’s crust. It is the cause of much of the red/brown staining of fixtures and laundry we see.

“Iron bacteria” which use iron in their metabolic process, also may cause problems. Although harmless (not a health issue), iron bacteria can form gelatinous growths that may plug pipes or break free in “slugs” of dirty, iron laden water with unpleasant tastes and odors.

The U. S. Environmental Agency’s (EPA) drinking water recommended secondary maximum contaminant level (MCL) for iron is 0.3 milligrams per liter mg/l. Sometimes even lower levels are a problem.

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SODIUM

Sodium is present in all natural waters. The concentration can vary from a few mg/l to thousands of mg/l. At higher levels it can give water an unpleasant taste.

Sodium is an essential nutrient. It plays a vital role in growth, development and in the maintenance of many bodily functions. However, high levels of sodium intake have been linked to cardiovascular problems including high blood pressure.

The EPA doesn’t directly regulate sodium in drinking water. It is limited mostly in terms of the 500 mg/l limit on total dissolved solids. The EPA Secondary Contaminate Level for TDS is 500 mg/l. At this level the most sodium that could be in the water would be about 230 mg/l. Water softeners work by exchanging hardness (calcium and magnesium) and other heavy metals for sodium or potassium. Sodium from salt is more common. The amount of sodium added is directly proportional to the hardness and heavy metals being removed. A softened water supply with total dissolved solids of 500 mg/l would have about 57 mg/l of sodium in an eight ounce “serving.” This would qualify as low sodium according to FDA labeling guidelines. If one wants to eliminate the added sodium from softening one can use potassium chloride to regenerate the softener or have a drinking water tap which bypasses the softener. To significantly reduce sodium intake, one must concentrate on the diet. Fast foods and processed foods contain many times the amount of sodium in softened water. However sodium, both natural and added, can be removed from the water. Click on the treatment methods link below to find out how.

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MANGANESE

Manganese is another stainer found in water. In many ways it is similar to iron but becomes objectionable at even lower levels than iron, leaving brown or black stains. The EPA Secondary MCL for manganese is 0.05 mg/l.

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ALKALINITY

The alkalinity of water may be defined as its capacity to neutralize acid. In north east Wyoming alkalinity is usually due to the presence of bicarbonates. Strongly alkaline waters have an objectionable soda taste and may cause drying of the skin due to the fact that they tend to remove normal skin oils. The EPA Secondary Drinking Water Regulations have no specific limit for alkalinity. It is limited mostly in terms of the 500 mg/l limit on total dissolved solids.

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CHLORIDE

Low concentrations of chloride add palatability to the water but higher levels give water a salty taste. Most natural waters in north east Wyoming have fairly low levels. The EPA Secondary Contaminate Level for chloride is 250 mg/l.

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SULFATE

Sulfates are found in almost all natural water supplies. The amount of sulfate varies according to soil characteristics in each area. In low concentrations sulfates add palatability to water but at high levels give water a medicinal taste and have a pronounced laxative effect on those not accustomed to them.

The EPA Secondary Contaminate Level for sulfate is 250 mg/l. Sulfates in the City of Gillette tend to run in the 150 mg/l range (1). The sulfate levels in private wells in northeast Wyoming vary greatly but sometimes exceed 2,500 mg/l.

 

HYDROGEN SULFIDE

Hydrogen sulfide, when present, gives water a “rotten egg” odor. Hydrogen sulfide develops from decaying organic matter (which may be millions of years old) and from sulfate-reducing bacteria. It can form in a water heater by a combination of sulfate-reducing bacteria and electrons from the magnesium rod. It can be offensive at very low levels. It is corrosive. Very high concentrations are both flammable and poisonous.

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FLUORIDE

Fluorides in water can be detrimental or beneficial. It depends on the concentration. In northeast Wyoming fluorides often occur naturally. The EPA Secondary Contaminate Level for fluoride is 2.0 mg/l. Above that level children are likely to develop dental fluorosis, a brown-staining and/or pitting of the permanent teeth. The EPA Maximum Contaminant Level is 4.0 mg/l. Above that level, individuals are at risk of developing crippling skeletal fluorosis, an embrittling of the bone structure, a serious bone disorder, that can lead to weakening and increased incidents of fracture.

In many communities fluoride is added to the water at a 0.7 to 1.0 mg/l level to reduce incidence of tooth decay. The City of Gillette does not add fluoride to the water. Its concern is not to have too much naturally occurring fluoride.

A recent joint announcement by officials from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended that the level of fluoride in U. S. drinking water be lowered to 0.7 mg/l from the current recommendation of 0.7 to 1.2 mg/l.

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TOTAL DISSOLVED SOLIDS

Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) are a measurement of all the solids, mostly minerals, dissolved in the water but does not specify what they are. The six most common constituents are calcium, magnesium, sodium, bicarbonate, sulfate and chloride. High levels of TDS gives the water a mineral taste and leaves mineral spots whenever water evaporates.

The EPA Secondary Contaminate Level for TDS is 500 mg/l. Gillette City water varies between 492 and 562 mg/l. The TDS in private wells in northeast Wyoming vary greatly and sometimes exceed 2,500 mg/l.

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 SOLUTIONS TO WATER PROBLEMS

HARDNESS

The most common method of treating for water hardness is to use an ion exchange water softener. A water softener removes hardness by passing water through water softening resin. As water containing hardness, made up of calcium and magnesium ions, (atoms with an electrical charge) passes through the resin the calcium and magnesium are attracted to the resin and exchanged for a chemically equivalent amount of sodium or potassium. When the sodium or potassium on the resin is nearly used up the water softener recharges or regenerates. A concentrated salt (sodium chloride) or potassium chloride solution from the brine tank is passed through the resin to drive off the hardness (calcium & magnesium) and restore the sodium or potassium. The excess salt or potassium is rinsed away and the water softener is returned to service.

The sodium or potassium do not cause scale or combine with soaps and detergents to form scum. Because there is a trade, on a chemically equivalent bases, the total dissolved solids do not change. True softening by definition is the physical removal of the hardness.

Other methods that remove or reduce hardness include reverse osmosis, distillation, lime soda softening and deionization. While these methods soften water it is usually not practical to use them to treat large volumes of water for household use. Sequestration can sometimes be used effectively. Food-grade polyphosphate compounds are added to the water to tie up the hardness so that it won’t do what it normally does. The polyphosphates are dissolved into the water from a cartridge in a filter housing or fed with a chemical feed pump. This is sometimes done before a water heater.

What about “Salt Free Water Softeners”? By definition water softening is the removal of hardness, calcium and magnesium, from the water. Since the devices that claim to be salt free water softeners do not remove the hardness from water they are not true water softeners and it is a misuse of language to call them such. These devices make no measurable change to the water. Some of these devices are sold as scale reduction systems. Even if this were true it would not give all the results of a real water softener.

 

SODIUM

Sodium cannot be removed by ordinary filtration. See the section on TOTAL DISSOLVED SOLIDS.

Link to Total Dissolved Solids

 

IRON AND MANGANESE

There are basically two ways of reducing iron and manganese. A water softener is generally effective for, “clear water,” iron and manganese at moderate levels. It is often the most cost effective method, giving “the most bang for the buck”. It works on the same ion exchange principle that softening does. It allows the use of one piece of equipment to treat two problems.

When iron is in the ferric state, “red water iron”, it must be filtered out. Filters do not remove iron in the ferrous state. It must first be converted to the ferric “red water,” state. This is done by adding air, chlorine, potassium permanganate, hydrogen peroxide or ozone to the water, providing adequate contact time, and then filtering the water with a backwashing filter. Backwashing filters are constructed of a mineral tank containing a filter media and are backwashed periodically by an automatic backwash valve. There are many different filter media, each with its own capabilities and limitations. Among the more commonly used filter media are Greensand Plus, pyrolucite, birm, filter aggregate, filter sand and granular activated carbon. Again, “one size” does not fit all.

We often use systems that use air to oxidize the iron. One advantage of these are that they do not require the use of expensive, dangerous or messy chemicals. There are several variations of these systems. Some draw air into the filter periodically, some use air pumps, another uses a booster pump and a venturi followed by an oxidizer tank and a filter. We examine the onsite conditions and recommend the best approach for the circumstances.

Green Sand Plus is a black filter media of a silica sand core coated with manganese dioxide. As the water passes thought the media the iron and/or manganese are oxidized forming tiny gelatinous specs that are trapped by the media and held. These are removed periodically by backwashing and the capacity of the Green Sand to oxidize iron, manganese and hydrogen sulfide is restored by rinsing potassium permanganate or chlorine through it.

All filters require a strong backwash. The heavier the media the greater the backwash rate required. It is a waste of money to install a filter if there is not enough water from the pump to backwash it properly. A good septic tank and drain field are required to handle the backwash water.

There are some filter cartridges that contain a special media for removing iron & manganese. These cartridges are relatively expensive and are not suitable for high levels of iron or high flow rates. But, they are viable in some circumstances.

 

ALKALINITY

Alkalinity cannot be removed by a water softener or ordinary filtration. For boiler use a Dealkalizer, which is not suitable for household use, can be used. See section on Total Dissolved Solids.

Link to Total Dissolved Solids

 

CHLORIDES

Chlorides cannot be removed by a water softener or ordinary filtration. See section on Total Dissolved Solids.

Link to Total Dissolved Solids

 

HYDROGEN SULFIDE

Many of the methods used to remove iron and manganese can also be effective for hydrogen sulfide. A softener will not work for this purpose. Sometimes very low levels can be removed by filtering with activated carbon (sometimes called charcoal). Since activated has a relatively low capacity for sulfide it must be replaced regularly. Usually oxidation is required, often followed by filtration. Many of the air systems described under Iron & Manganese treatment work for hydrogen sulfide. The Odor Oxidizer system can sometimes be used without a backwashing filter.

 

FLUORIDE

The two practical methods for a homeowner to reduce fluoride are reverse osmosis and distillation. There are some filters that will reduce fluoride but they may have a very limited capacity at the alkalinity levels and at the pHs usually encountered in northeast Wyoming.

 

TOTAL DISSOLVED SOLIDS (TDS

These are not removed by ordinary filtration because they are down at the size of the atoms and pass through an ordinary filter. The two most practical methods of reducing TDS are reverse osmosis and distillation. For laboratory use an ion exchange method known at deionization (DI) can be used. Reverse osmosis systems work by forcing water through a semi permeable membrane. The water passes through the membrane but most of the dissolved solids are rejected and flushed down the drain. For drinking water a small under the sink type reverse osmosis system is often all that is needed. We also offer commercial and whole house reverse osmosis systems for severe conditions or where large quantities are desired.